In many ways, the similarities between Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen and USC quarterback Matt Barkley are rather astounding.
Both blond-haired signal callers, each equipped with a powerful right arm, grew up in football talent-rich Southern California, Clausen in Westlake Village, Barkley in Newport Beach.
Each was tutored by famed quarterback guru Steve Clarkson, and each entered high school with a good deal of hype. Clausen enrolled at a program in its infancy at Oaks Christian, while Barkley chose to attend traditional powerhouse Mater Dei.
Both Clausen and Barkley had memorable high school careers and gained mega-recruit status before moving on to their respective colleges.
Clausen was a contributor to the Lions in his ninth-grade season, but Joey Halzle took most of the snaps for Oaks Christian in 2003. As a sophomore, head coach Bill Redell turned over the offense to Clausen, who threw for 280 yards and three touchdowns in the team’s 2004 season opener.
From that point on, Oaks Christian rolled with Clausen under center, going 42-0 over the next three seasons, culminating in a 27-20 victory over Cardinal Newman in the small school division inaugural California Bowl Games.
Barkley was the starter from day one as a freshman, extremely rare for a storied program like Mater Dei. In his debut game Sept. 10, 2005, Barkley lost a nailbiter to Orange Lutheran, led by current Trojan teammate Aaron Corp.
Barkley finished his freshman season with a 9-3 record. He broke his collarbone and sat out the team’s season-ending loss to Loyola. From that point on, Barkley led the Monarchs to at least eight victories each season, finishing his tenure at Mater Dei with a 34-12 career record.
By the numbers
Eye-popping stats were the norm for Clausen at Oaks Christian. As a sophomore, he threw for 3,665 yards and 56 TDs while only being intercepted six times. He continued to dominate opposing defenses as a junior, registering 30 TD passes. Clausen upped the stakes once again in his senior season, accounting for 3,248 yards and 49 touchdowns through the air.
He finished with 10,764 career passing yards and a state-record 146 touchdown passes.
Despite facing one of the most rigorous schedules in the country over his four years, Barkley still managed gaudy stats while at Mater Dei. In his first two seasons, he tossed for a combined 21 touchdowns. Coming into his own as a junior, Barkley exploded for 35 TD passes, tallying 3,576 yards in the process.
Barkley struggled with interceptions (17) as a senior with many of his top receiving targets gone from the program, managing 23 touchdowns and 2,877 yards – still statistics that most quarterbacks would sign for in advance. His 9,487 passing yards topped Todd Marinovich's previous Orange County record of 9,182 yards. Barkley finished with 79 career passing touchdowns.
Few prospects are talked about and scrutinized to the level Jimmy Clausen was. His amazing statistics, college-ready build (6-foot-3, 210 pounds), and quarterback pedigree had college coaches around the country eager for his services.
In 2007, Tom Lemming ranked Clausen as the nation’s top recruit. He ended his recruiting process early, verbally committing to the Fighting Irish in the spring of his junior season in a press conference held at the College Football Hall of Fame.
Clausen chose to play for Charlie Weis and Notre Dame over a host of other suitors, most notably Pete Carroll and USC. His commitment to the Fighting Irish was a huge victory for Notre Dame on the field and off the field.
Barkley was on the radar of college coaches simply by virtue of playing for Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson as a ninth grader. His poise, maturity and rocket throwing arm made him the most sought-after recruit in the class of 2009.
Like Clausen, Barkley could have named his school. The Gatorade National Player of the Year as a junior, Barkley also garnered the No. 1 spot in Lemming’s Top 100. Barkley’s father, Les, is a USC alum, so the Trojans and Carroll were long thought to be the favorite.
Barkley’s commitment to USC less than two months after his junior season ended received far less reaction than Clausen’s commitment.
In his brilliant, undefeated career Clausen won a number of big games, including two section championships and a California Bowl Game.
However, he may be best remembered by his Bowl Game performance, where the heavily-favored Lions survived by a touchdown against Cardinal Newman after Clausen had a forgettable day. He completed only 12 of 23 passes for 94 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.
Current Oaks Christian star Malcolm Jones helped bail out Clausen and the Lions with a 64-yard interception return. The Lions prevailed in overtime.
Every game is a big game when playing quarterback in the Trinity League, and Barkley typically rose to the occasion. The Monarchs were never able to get over the hump and earn a Bowl Game bid or a section crown, but Mater Dei did claim the Trinity League title in 2007 and 2008.
In a game that Southern California high school football fans will talk about for years, Barkley rose to the occasion against Corona Centennial tossing for 365 yards in a game that featured a state-record 1,298 total yards of offense. He answered every Centennial punch with a counterpunch, leading the Monarchs to a 51-37 victory.
Additionally, Barkley was 4-0 against longtime rival Servite of Anaheim. Mater Dei has not lost to Servite since 1988, so there was enormous pressure on Barkley to keep that streak alive. He could never figure out a way to get past Orange Lutheran, however, as the Lancers beat Barkley four times.
Clausen and Barkley will square off in one of college football's biggest games of the weekend when USC visits Notre Dame on Saturday afternoon. The game will be broadcast on NBC at 3:30 p.m. EDT.